IPL 2024: MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli will still hold centerstage but Ruturaj Gaikwad’s elevation adds a twist to opening night | Ipl News

MS Dhoni and Ruturaj gaikwad CSK

The stage was set. One player who hasn’t played a game since the last Indian Premier League season, and is the darling of the masses. Another, who the whole of India is waiting to return to action, with questions still lingering in the air as to how he would use the IPL to confirm his spot in the T20 World Cup squad.

MS Dhoni vs Virat Kohli. Chennai Super Kings vs Royal Challengers Bengaluru. It seemed to be the ideal curtain-raiser for a party that would go on for two months.

But courtesy of a last-minute decision, the spotlight will now be trained on Ruturaj Gaikwad, CSK’s new captain.

At the end of the player auctions, as Chennai put together a solid outfit that looked stronger than last season when they won the title, all things pointed out to the franchise wanting to give their ‘Thala’ one final shot at the title. A record sixth title would have been hard to overtake for anyone. It was rolled out on a platter.

But here we are, like in 2022, just a day before a new IPL season begins, there is a change of guard that’s gotten everyone talking. When Gaikwad leads the side on Friday against RCB, it would make the first instance of Dhoni playing an IPL game at Chepauk under a different captain. And for the first time since the league began, none of Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli will be leading any of the franchises. The next generation has taken over.

Like he did with India all things point out to Dhoni once again acing his timing. Having won their fifth title with an inexperienced bowling unit, Gaikwad now gets a chance to carry forward a proud legacy with arguably the best-ever unit assembled by the franchise.

“Feels good. It’s a privilege, but more than that, it is a huge responsibility,” Gaikwad said about his promotion. “I have Mahi (Dhoni) bhai in the team, Jaddu (Jadeja) bhai, and Ajju (Rahane) bhai, who have been great captains to guide me. So nothing much to worry about and just looking forward to enjoy.”

Festive offer

There is every reason for Gaikwad to feel excited about the challenge. To start off, he doesn’t have much headache in terms of identifying who the best XI is.

For the earlier part of the season, Chennai will miss the services of Devon Conway and Matheesha Pathirana — two players who played a stellar role in their victorious campaign last season – to injuries. While it may have affected other sides, Chennai are not fretting over it. In Rachin Ravindra, they have a ready-made opener who can also bowl four overs of left-arm spin in their ranks. With Shardul Thakur back in the team, and Deepak Chahar fit and available, the Super Kings have their bases covered.

In the middle-order, in place of now-retired Ambati Rayudu, Chennai have acquired the services of Daryl Mitchell to provide the fireworks. An excellent player against spin, with his ability to hit the ball in the ‘V’, Mitchell is crucial to CSK’s plans this season.

The main question on the eve of their opening fixture is who will make up the rest of their overseas slot in the XI. For the two remaining spots, CSK have to choose between Mooen Ali, Maheesh Theekshana, and Mustafizur Rahman. While Moeen would definitely provide Chennai with all-round options, the conditions could ultimately decide who among Theekshana and Mustafizur get the nod. Though Chennai have mostly preferred turning conditions in the past, last season they drifted away from the template, mixing things up depending on the opponents.

A day before the opener, there was a slight tinge of grass on the playing surface. Whether it stays so on Friday evening is a different question, but either way Chennai have no reasons to worry. Be it batting or bowling, Chennai’s depth looks staggering.

With all-round options in place, they have Chahar, a capable hitter, coming in at No 10. In the bowling front, they have at least seven bowling options. Add the Impact Player in place, Gaikwad couldn’t have asked for a more rounded team that is well-balanced to start off his captaincy journey. It is a luxury that Ravindra Jadeja missed badly in 2022 and was left exposed.

If CSK have most bases covered, their opponents RCB are searching for answers. Unsurprisingly. they have plenty of firepower in the batting unit. In what should hearten their fans, RCB’s Director of Cricket Mo Bobat said Kohli has hit the ground running after his break. “Virat’s in a good place. He’s at a stage of his career where most of what he does is pretty hardwired into him. He’s coming in fresh, which is what we’re excited about,” Bobat said.

“He’s had a few hits with us over the last few days and he’s hitting the ball brilliantly.”

But as has always been the case, there are holes that opposition can expose as well. The most problematic of them all lies in their bowling unit, which has room for only one of Lockie Ferguson and Alzarri Joseph.

With Faf du Plessis, Glenn Maxwell and Cameron Green needed in the batting front, Bengaluru have to make do with Mohammed Siraj, Akash Deep, Yash Dayal, Himanshu Sharma, Karn Sharma and Mayank Dagar from the domestic front. On a potentially spin-friendly surface against a Super Kings side, they are short of experienced slower bowlers. And that alone could determine the outcome of the game.

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